Embryos in the Original Position:

Why Justice as Fairness Supports a Pro-Life Stance

Russell DiSilvestro
Bowling Green State University

How should followers of the late John Rawls think about the moral status of the human embryo? Those familiar with Rawls’ work might assume that it either does not provide enough material to formulate an answer to this question, or that the answer it provides is decidedly liberal. After all, Rawls has been the most recognizable intellectual champion of liberalism for the past several decades, and his few but famous remarks on the issue of abortion are clearly in line with a pro-choice framework. Nevertheless, I argue in this paper that other aspects of Rawls’ own writings lead naturally and directly into a staunchly conservative position regarding the defense of human embryos. This is most clearly proved from his remarks on how parties in his original position would think about issues like paternalism and human equality. In each case, Rawls discusses why the parties would seek to protect themselves in case they end up as an incapacitated or undeveloped human being when the veil of ignorance is lifted. My simple but surprising thesis, then, is that if one adopts Rawls’ own framework of justice as fairness, it is clear that human embryos should be entitled to the claims of justice.

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